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Rare Plane Retrieved in Venezuela

March 7, 2001

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ A Dutch expedition has salvaged the wreckage of a rare, antique twin-engine passenger plane that crashed in the Venezuelan jungle in 1937, diplomats said.

The expedition, sponsored by the Dutch Aerospace Museum Aviodome-Schiphol and the Venezuela Air Force, found the wreckage of the Fokker-8 beside an isolated airstrip in a jungle clearing near the Indian village of Uruyen in the southeastern state of Bolivar, 500 miles from Caracas.

The 15-passenger Fokker-8 is the only remaining model of its kind in the world. The Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker made only one prototype and 10 reproductions in 1928, Van Dam said.

Because passengers sat three abreast, the plane is considered one of the first ``wide-bodied″ passenger airplanes.

The team reassembled the craft’s metal fuselage and engines at the Venezuela air force base in the north central city of Maracay. The plane’s remains will be sent to The Netherlands by ship by the end of the week, said Robert Van Dam, defense attache at the Dutch embassy.

The plane, sold to Venezuela in 1937, was probably on an aerial cartography mission when it crashed, Van Dam said. A preliminary investigation shows that four people may have been aboard at the time of the crash _ two pilots and two cartographers. The fate of the passengers could not be immediately determined.

The expedition was still searching for some of the plane’s parts _ including the seats _ among the Pemon Indians, believed to have salvaged some components at the time of the crash and handed them down through generations, Van Dam said.

``The wreckage was above ground and the plane was still basically in one piece,″ Van Dam said. ``It wasn’t (a crash) that blew a hole in the ground and scattered the wreckage.″

The expedition to salvage the aircraft began in 1999 after Dutch museum officials learned of the wreck from Juan Flores Blanco, director of the Venezuelan Air Force Museum.

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